Dec 02, 2019

WATCH: How to fix the leadership development gap

A week back, we had the pleasure of teaming up with Slack for a conversational webinar about what goes wrong in leadership development today and how to fix it going forward. Now that we’ve fought through our fair share of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and mediocre football, we’re pleased to share it with you today.

First though, we’d like to send a big thank you to Jade Hanley from Slack. She brought a ton of expertise and insight to the conversation, both around what Slack does well and what L&D providers can do to bridge the gaps in leadership development today. So thanks to you, Jade!

What follows is our webinar recording and, below that, a few of the sections that stuck out most to us. Thanks for tuning in!

Leadership isn’t a ladder, it’s a rock climbing wall

If there’s a pervasive symbol in American work culture, it’s the ladder. You’ve probably heard it enough times that it barely even registers. People “climb the corporate ladder” as they do work, get promoted, gather responsibility, and repeat the process until, well, there aren’t any rungs left.

But there’s a real issue here. It’s not about personal development or increased ownership at work–those are good things. Rather, it’s this idea that you’re on a ladder by yourself, taking individual steps without much thought to your surroundings. For Jade, the real metaphor here isn’t a ladder, it’s a rock climbing wall.

If you’ve ever been to one of those gyms with colorful handholds, you know what we’re getting at. Rock climbing walls still find a person scaling towards a goal. But they aren’t alone. There are ropes to keep them safe if they falter. On the other end of those ropes are supports and anchors and people. Even people who aren’t actually helping, they’re below, shouting support, giving guidance on where next to place your hand, and clapping when you reach the top.

Real leadership is much more like this than a lonely ladder. Great leaders are a product of their drive and the support of their piers, their reports, their community, and their company. The smart ones lean on their people for new ideas, to pick them up when they falter, to applaud them when they succeed. The summit means more when you’ve got help and, let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to get there when you have motivated help.

Communities of practice are a great DIY way to solve your own leadership issues

Digging in a little deeper here: what are some ways to provide that rock climbing wall mentality? On a holistic level, it’s fairly obvious: you need to provide support. But how you do this is important. Leadership and development programs are vital here, but employers sometimes miss a simple thing they can do to help that doesn’t cost money at all: communities of practice.

At Lingo Live, our coaches have this. They have places to congregate and share best practices, big successes, and ask the sorts of questions that only other hands-on coaches can really answer. This is the sort of thing you can–and should–be doing in your organization. Your experienced, successful leaders and managers? They should be helping your your emerging leaders with situations they’re encountering for the first time. Your management team should be talking about how to unlock their reports, how to have difficult conversations, and, really, just being there for each other for whatever issues arise.

Creating a space and carving out time–even just an hour a week or every other week–for your managers to talk not about OKRs or company performance but about actual management and leadership? That goes a long, long way to improving manager performance and creating an environment where your team is close-knit and honest about their work and their careers.

Not every great employee is a people manager–and that’s okay

Slack has the interesting–and really smart–policy of splitting their growing employees into two tracks: one for individual contributors (IC) and one for people managers. They expect everyone to lead in their own unique way (and, of course, ICs can be some of your most vital leaders) but they know that some folks don’t really want to manage a team so they try to suss this out and make sure the opporutnities afforded to their employees fit with what their employees actual want (and will actually excel in).

This is smart for a whole host of reasons, but the one that really sticks out is that they don’t force stellar employees into a management track if they don’t want that for themselves. Instead, they provide new challenges and leadership (not management) opportunities for ICs to grow into. It keeps careers from stagnating, all while not saddling their team with responsibilities they might be right for.

This is something we think every organization should consider. We all have colleagues who are great at their job and would excel with more responsibility but who don’t have the right mindset or just the plain desire to manage a team. Finding new ways for them to excel and grow without forcing them into a people management track is something that can keep your best and brightest in house but not overwhelmed or feeling their career trajectory isn’t something they’re comfortable with.

Again, we’d like to thank Jade from Slack and Alyssa from our very own Lingo Live for the time and the conversation. There’s a ton to learn from this webinar we didn’t talk about, from the traits that make good managers (and the red flag traits that make bad ones) to the challenge of distributed workforces and so much more. It was one of our favorite conversations we’ve had this year, and we’d love it if you checked it out!

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